Ready for some Rapid Reviews, 'Rama readers? Then buckle your seatbelts, because Best Shots is coming! Let's kick off with Jake Baumgart as he returns to the swinging '60s with the sophomore issue of Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre...
Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): A highlight of Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner’s Silk Spectre is how it fits into the original Watchmen in both tone, narrative and art. These two artists can excel on this book without having to run all over the source material. Conner is A-plus on this book, with pencils that pop and make the reader fall in love with the optimistic young Laurie Jupiter. Although the threat of mind control through '60s rock and roll seems a little too comic book-ish, it doesn’t derail the story at all. In fact, all the tastes are well-balanced as this book gives the reader equal parts action, love and coming of age.
Captain Marvel #1 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10; Click here for preview): There is a lot of weight on Captain Marvel, as both a character and symbol. Instead of ignoring this, writer Kelly Sue DeConnick has Carol Danvers take it head-on. There is a strong sense of legacy within the pages of Captain Marvel #1, as if Carol is just as hesitant as the reader. That hesitation quickly falls by the wayside as DeConnick writes an issue that is both exciting and emotionally compelling. I will admit, though, Dexter Soy's art took me out of the story a bit. Although Soy's art is packed with energy and movement, it doesn't always connect with DeConnick's type of writing. Still, when Marvel is alone with her thoughts and the vastness of space, I see the potential for greatness with this creative team.
Night of 1000 Wolves #3 (Published by IDW; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): The sins of the father are revisited when a demonic bargain comes due and we see the contrasts of motherly love in the slightly disappointing conclusion of Night of 1000 Wolves. While the illustrations of artist/co-creator Dave Wachter are as strong as ever, with oversize painted panels and creatures that loom larger than life, I was a bit disappointed that the series ended with more of a whimper than a bang. Ending on a promise of future horrors to come for Harrick through no fault of his own instead of a bloody reckoning for past sins is just a bit too strong of an ironic streak in this story by writer/co-creator Bobby Curnow. Still, this is visceral and visual treat that horror fans should enjoy.
Ame-Comi: Duela Dent #2 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Amanda McDonald; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): Currently set in a spacecraft above Gotham, Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray's Duela Dent has a light tone, with witty quips and punchlines that feel like you should pause for the laugh track as you read them. Following up Dent's origin story, this issue features the Ame-Comi villains assisting in the capture of Batgirl and sets up the next issue with a tease of Robin, Steel and Flash prepping to intervene. Palmiotti and Gray's story, with detailed and seductive art by Ted Naifeh, brings the Ame-Comi's Duela figure to life as she oozes unapologetic criminal intent as over-the-top as her steampunk costume, further enhanced by Randy Mayor's coloring. We've still got two miniseries to come, but this title will be hard to top.
Saga #5 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Erika D. Peterman; ’Rama Rating: 10 out of 10):This has got to be one of the most consistently great comic books being published right now. Exciting, surprising and even sharply funny, Saga #5 provides more wonderful character moments and portraits of strange yet somehow familiar worlds. In this issue, we see the feral side of the usually gentle Marko as he unleashes a surprisingly furious defense against his wife and newborn child's attackers. Just when you think you have a character pegged, writer Brian K. Vaughan reveals new layers proving that there's more than meets the eye. This is especially true of bounty hunter The Will, whose intervention on behalf of a child sex slave is unexpected and touching. Illustrating this complex, mysterious world is a tall order, and Fiona Staples pulls it off issue after issue. Her art is clean and meticulous without being fussy, and the overall effect is irresistible. Like its predecessors, Saga #5 is pitch-perfect.
Avengers vs. X-Men #8 (Published by Marvel Comics; Review by Jake Baumgart; 'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10): The Avengers seem lost and confused and, in this issue, the reader can feel the exact same way. Avengers vs. X-Men is starting to fall into that grey area that event crossover books stumble into where all the juicy moments are in some other tie-in book. If you’re looking for a little more texture to the story, the reader is going to have to go somewhere else. Things are moving so fast that it’s hard to really understand what the stakes are. Even that second page, with the line drawn and the heroes on either side, is confusing now. The saving grace is Adam Kubert’s pencils, which are powerful and with really great scope. With Wakanda flooded, it’s time to get this boat back on-course.
Star Trek #11 (Published by IDW Publishing; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10): Tribbles! The iconic furballs are introduced into the movie continuity with the blessing of their original creator by Mike Johnson. While Kirk and the Enterprise try to figure out why the Klingons want to bomb a planet of the Tribbles, the slightly more mischievous movie Scotty releases them on an unsuspecting San Francisco in an issue that captures the humor of David Gerrold’s original while forging its own path. Claudia Balboni’s likenesses are strong and her alien world is a thing of chaotic beauty (aided by appropriately garish coloring from Ilaria Traversi) but like other artists on this book, there’s a tendency to make the action too stilted. I really like this blending of old and new in one of IDW’s best licensed books.
Batwoman #11 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Aaron Duran; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): I appreciate JH Williams and W. Haden Blackman's attempt at presenting Kate Kane's fractured world in a non-linear fashion, but I'm glad Batwoman #11 tightens things up a bit. The conclusion of To Drown the World is simply satisfying. Williams and Blackman show a keen insight into personal relations, but still haven't quite nailed the heroic tension this story required. Trevor McCarthy and Pere Perez do a good job in using Williams' non-traditional panel layouts for Batwoman, even if it's hard to not think “this just isn't Williams” when you read the pages. The quieter moments between characters outside the costumes are drawn with a sense of grace and realism that help to carry this book. Although it reads more horror than hero, Batwoman is still one of DC's more intriguing titles.
Grimm Fairy Tales Myths and Legends #18 (Published by Zenescope Entertainment; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Legends have their basis in fact—a lesson the ghost-hunting television duo of Gina and Hank might learn the hard way in this intriguing new story arc. Playing off paranormal television programs, Troy Brownfield treats the pair and their crew like a mature take on Scooby Doo and really does a nice job making the characters engaging and the horror believable, with hints of worse things to come. Joshua Hood is more restrained than I’d like to see in a horror book—he definitely could have gone with more dramatic panels and a bit bloodier with the crazed murderer’s scenes. The overall art style is realistic, like a more normalized Richard Corben. This is a sleeper hit for me that horror fans should look into.
Reset #4 (Published by Dark Horse Comics; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Government research into a virtual reality torture device goes seriously awry. Meanwhile, our protagonist makes peace with his station in life. This cerebral story makes a lot of interesting observations about the way we live our lives, and the way we let other peoples’ perceptions of us shape who we are. The one thing holding the story back is that the government conspiracy plot threads were left dangling a bit loose and unresolved, which leaves the reader with something of an unsatisfied feeling. Peter Bagge’s artwork is as expressive and animated as ever, with his trademark bendy-limbed characters, and use of highly emotive, almost caricature-esque, facial expressions. Reset #4 is a strong character-driven story that makes a fine addition to Bagge’s impressive catalogue.
Birds of Prey #11 (Published by DC Comics; Review by Amanda McDonald; 'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10): Oh, so that's why Poison Ivy joined the Birds! Answers to this unlikely teaming sprout as Ivy entraps them into helping her take on enviro-scum. Swierczynski weaves an intricate plot creating more questions before parsing out answers, but it is let down by distractions in the artwork by Travel Foreman and Timothy Green II. Some of the facial detailing is just sloppy and disfigured. With two artists on board and a stand out cover, I'd expect a more polished look. The rich and vibrant coloring makes it palatable, but this strong story really deserves a more solid art team. I've read enough of this series to want to know how this latest development with Ivy turns out, but new readers will have to look past the artistic distractions to enjoy the story.
Skullkickers #16 (Published by Image Comics; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10): It’s hard to be a Skullkicker when your opponent has no skull! A squid-like threat from Baldy’s past takes over the crew, leaving the pair of medieval mercenaries facing either mind control or drowning in this fourth part of a fun-filled romp from Jim Zub and Edwin Huang. Written with tongue planted firmly in cheek in terms of plotting, dialogue, captions and sound effects, this issue really lets loose and is a zany battle royale from start to finish, as things keep getting worse for our protagonists. Huang’s characters live as large as the script, with expressive faces, free-flowing bodies and a few panel tricks thrown in for good measure—all tightly illustrated, too. Skullkickers is a comic that lovers of fun need to try.
X-O Manowar #3 (Published by Valiant Entertainment; Review by Edward Kaye; ’Rama Rating: 8 out of 10): Alric harnesses the power of the X-O armor to lead his fellow prisoners in a revolt against their alien captors. Robert Venditti has being doing a great job with this new X-O series, which stays faithful to the original’s plot, but updates it for a new audience. This issue delivers high-octane action and excitement in spades, while continuing to advance the plot. Some of the dialogue is a little cheesy, but in an unabashed way that has a certain charm to it. Cory Nord illustrates the issue in fine fashion, choreographing the battles well, and making great use of perspective. X-O Manowar #3 is a fun and fresh reimagining of the original, which is sure to please fans new and old alike.
Red Sonja #67 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by Rob McMonigal; 'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10): Lightning may not strike the same place twice, but a Lightning Dragon has no problem attacking Red Sonja and her companions repeatedly in this jumping on story that has a good feel for fantasy but needs to tighten up on art. Eric Trautmann’s writing shows Sonja’s fierce determination quite well in this one and done tale against a mystical being and some unfriendly natives that’s designed to set up the next arc. That said, the art takes a definite downgrade. Marcio Abreu’s pencils feel unfinished with no inks, leaving rough edges that the coloring of Salvatore Aiala Studios cannot cover for. He also draws Sonja to emphasize her chest and legs to an almost comical degree, which hurts the overall story, making this one tough to recommend.